Sunday, March 18, 2018

Family-Student-Educator Conferences: March 2018

These are teaching/learning approaches we utilize regularly.
Every year our team tries to develop our efforts related to family-student-educator conferences. We do a lot to prepare for these events as we believe it is very important to collaborate with students and family members to build a strong learning/teaching team and community. We know that when we work together, children do better and that's very important to us.

There are a number of philosophical underpinnings that I hold as we move into the conference week including the following:
  • Servant leadership: For the most part I utilize this management philosophy as I teach and work with families--I consider myself both a team member and "servant" to those I work with and for, and hope to meet their needs as I teach.
  • It Takes a Village: No one person or group can meet a child's every need--it takes the team of family members, educators, coaches, friends, and other important people in a child's life to spell success and support for that child.
  • Children are the masters of their learning journey--while family members, educators, and others support a child's optimal learning journey ultimately it is the child who leads and empowers that journey.
  • Knowing thyself leads to success--the more children understand who they are, how they learn, and what they are interested in and passionate about, the better they will learn and the happier and more successful they will be. 
  • Learning is not a straight diagonal, but instead learning is a bumpy road that is full of ups and downs as well as plateaus. 
  • Social Emotional Learning and Intelligence matters.
  • Good learning depends on holistic programs that emphasize goal setting, reflection, analysis, discussion/debate, quality learning experiences, positivity, growth mindset,
    adequate supports, cultural proficiency, confidence in one's self, the ability to advocate and ask questions, and commitment, dedication, and creativity by all stakeholders. 
  • Success today depends on students' ability to be lifelong learners who exhibit flexibility, metacognitive skills, and collaboration. 
Preparation is essential to quality conferences, and our team has chosen to have most of the conferences during the same week so that we are all talking about the same goals, efforts, and endeavor.  To prepare for the conferences, our team does the following:
  • Help students to complete showcase portfolios that include examples of signature learning efforts, learning data sheets, student reflections, goals, photographs, and passion pages.
  • Organize and print student data sheets that provides the data related to students' progress with foundation skills and grade-level standards (See example below).
  • Help students write a conference script to use as they lead the conference with family members. (In some cases students and families choose not to have the student attend, and in some cases students attend and lead the conference.)
  • Schedule the conferences well in advance by creating Google tables and allowing families to sign up for the time that fits their schedules best. 
  • Prepare the week's learning materials in advance to make time during the week for focus on the conferences. 
During the conferences it is important to be present and to be a good listener. More than ever, this is a chance to listen to students' and family members' questions and thoughts. We don't have to have all the answers at these conferences, and at times a family member or student question may be met with the response, "I have to think about that or I have to consult colleagues about that matter, and then I'll get back to you." What's most important as you listen is to recognize that children just like our teaching/learning programs and ourselves are always a work in progress--none of us have the monopoly on knowing all and we have to be open to discussion and debate when it comes to what works best for a child's progress. In general, I believe the following information is important to relay during a conference:
  • Every child is capable of learning and every child's learning path will be different.
  • When nurturing your children related to learning, I think a good ratio of emphases is 50% academic skills and foundation and 50% passion and interests.  Generally when children have a solid academic foundation as well as areas of deep interest, those children are more confident and happy. It is not one without the other, but both that are very important.
  • Making the time to talk to your children regularly and work with them to meet their needs is essential. A conversation about needs, wants, and desires is a good way to forward this kind of collaboration. 
  • Teaching/learning environments are not perfect, and sometimes what a family desires or a child needs is not part of the program. At times, during a conference, you may need to ask a family to help you advocate for more, better, or different to better serve a child or children. 
In general our teaching/learning program is strong--we have positive learning experiences, lots of special events, a students-first attitude, and great collaboration amongst the grade-level teaching /learning team so we expect that the conferences will be positive and helpful with regard to our continued efforts to further coach each student forward in the months to come. 

What do you include in your family-student-educator conference efforts? What other ideas do you have for us as we enter this busy week when each homeroom teacher will meet with about 25 families? The more we build this effort, the better we will serve every child and that matters to us.

Example of student stat sheets. Note that students also receive a progress report that
identifies student success with specific standards twice a year.